With seven of the eight area runners being underclassmen, Saturday's state Class A girls cross-country meet provided valuable experience for next season.
United North Central, which advanced to state as the Section 8A runner-up, finished 16th in the team standings with 347 points while Nevis' Jade Rypkema finished 91st in her state debut with a 5K time of 20:42 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Junior Annika Aho led UNC by placing 61st overall in 20:15 while freshman Kate Hendrickson (137th in 21:29) and eighth grader Kaarin Lehto (138th in 21:30) followed. Eighth grader Gabby Hrdlicka was the Warriors' No. 4 runner with a 21:33 for 142nd place while senior Maria Isaacson rounded out UNC's team score by placing 152nd in 21:54. Eighth grader Molly Hendrickson was 159th in 22:04 and eighth grader Anita Lehto was 167th in 22:44.
In the team standings (which excludes all individual qualifiers), Aho was 27th, Kate Hendrickson was 75th, Kaarin Lehto was 76th, Hrdlicka was 80th and Isaacson was 89th to comprise UNC's 347 team score.
When UNC qualified for the state meet for the first time in school history in 2015, Aho was 52nd overall in 20:21 and Isaacson finished 163rd overall in 23:00. Aho earned all-state honors last season by placing 15th overall in 19:32 as an individual state qualifier.
At this year's Section 8A meet, the Warriors claimed runner-up honors with 102 points as Aho finished seventh in 21:37, Kate Hendrickson finished 13th in 22:24, Kaarin Lehto finished 27th in 23:21, Molly Hendrickson finished 28th in 23:22, Hrdlicka finished 37th in 23:41, Anita Lehto finished 53rd in 24:25 and Isaacson finished 73rd in 25:10. Perham won the section title with 37 points.
"I told them to believe in themselves and run hard. This was their last cross-country race of the year and for Maria the last race of her cross-country career," said UNC co-head coach Nick Jasmer. "The mood was very somber at the end of the race when we found out the results. Nobody ever wants to come in last place, but unfortunately that was the case for us. I told them that everybody is proud of them and to realize that we are the 16th best team in the state for single A cross country. We had a goal to get to the state meet and we did just that. This is such a valuable experience for this young team. They are going to take this experience and use it as fuel to get back there next season. It is going to be their motivation for next season. We expect them to come out next year looking to have the same goal of going back to the state meet. They are going to be determined to get back to the state meet and improve upon what they did this year. I believe and expect that they will do just that."
Rypkema earned an individual state berth by placing 12th overall in 22:23 at the section meet. The Nevis seventh grader topped her goal of breaking 21:00 and just missed her goal of finishing in the top half of the 174-runner field.
"Jade ran a very smart race. We were hoping to finish in the top half (87th or better) and get under 21:00. Jade ended up 91st and at 20:42, which was her PR (personal record) by 1:40, so that was great," said Nevis head coach Tom Stambaugh. "She was a bit overwhelmed with the size and talent of all the runners, but I thought she ran great. She really closed the time gap on the other kids in our section. I wanted her at 6:20 at the mile and 13:00 at two miles. She was 6:22 and 13:03. The hills in the last mile got her a little bit, but that will come in time. Many of the top girls are running 50-plus miles per week. We have Jade around 15 to 20 miles. She'll get up to that mileage in the future. Jade has a bright future. As long as she stays healthy, I think she can challenge the top 25 and make all-state next fall. I think that would be a good goal and an attainable goal."
Freshman Tierney Wolfgram of the Woodbury Math & Science Academy claimed the state title with a record time of 17:31. Lauren Ping of Winona Cotter was a distant second in 18:19 and Grace Ping of Winona Cotter took third in 18:27. Wolfgram broke the previous meet record of 17:52 set by Grace Ping in 2015.
Perham, the No. 1-rated team in the state, won the state title with 86 points to edge No. 2 Winona Cotter's 87 points. No. 5 Annandale took third with 131 points, No. 3 Stewartville was fourth with 137 points and No. 4 Fairmont took fifth with 165 points. Perham also won the state title in 2015 when the girls distance was extended to 5,000 meters for the first time.
Girls team scores: Perham 86, Winona Cotter 87, Annandale 131, Stewartville 137, Fairmont 165, Luverne 203, Maple Lake 211, Minnehaha Academy 219, Jordan 238, Lac qui Parle Valley 257, Belle Plaine 261, Eden Valley-Watkins 265, North Shore 266, Proctor 270, West Central Area 272, United North Central 347.
1, Tierney Wolfgram, Woodbury Math & Science Academy, 17:31. 2, Lauren Ping, Winona Cotter, 18:19. 3, Grace Ping, Winona Cotter, 18:27. 4, Morgan Gehl, Murray County, 18:35. 5, Tenley Nelson, Luverne, 18:50. 6, MaKenna Thurston, LCWM/Nicollet, 18:54. 7, Marissa Whitehead, Martin County, 18:59. 8, Ava Hill, Mesabi East, 19:06. 9, Kayla Christopherson, Austin Pacelli, 19:07. 10, Emma Fashant, Annandale, 19:07. 18, Kira Sweeney, Staples-Motley, 19:23. 19, Caitlin Covington, Perham, 19:25. 27, Liz Birkeland, Perham, 19:41. 28, Ellie Morgan, Frazee, 19:43. 29, Hailey Wegscheid, Perham, 19:45. 42, Addison Lorber, Staples-Motley, 20:01. 45, Lily Peterson, Lake Park-Audubon, 20:06. 50, Ashley Hokanson, Perham, 20:10. 51, Katherine Geist, Crookston, 20:10. 59, Abby Tweeton, Perham, 20:14. 61, Annika Aho, United North Central, 20:15. 69, Abby Syverson, Pelican Rapids, 20:23. 75, Marin Garrett, East Grand Forks, 20:29. 79, Ashley Robben, Staples-Motley, 20:31. 88, Mya Morris, Perham, 20:36. 91, Jade Rypkema, Nevis, 20:42. 95, Lauryn Rustad, Perham, 20:44. 115, Rebecca Heppner, Warroad, 21:04. 121, Megan Danielson, Frazee, 21:13. 137, Kate Hendrickson, United North Central, 21:29. 138, Kaarin Lehto, United North Central, 21:30. 142, Gabby Hrdlicka, United North Central, 21:33. 152, Maria Isaacson, United North Central, 21:54. 159, Molly Hendrickson, United North Central, 22:04. 167, Anita Lehto, United North Central, 22:44.